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After Unlimited Data Era, Will AT&T’s Shared Data Plans Be Fair?

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At the All Things D conference, AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega announced that the company will eventually move to a shared data plan, otherwise known as a family data plan. Last June, right before the iPhone 4 launched, the carrier had terminated unlimited smartphone data plans. While it still grandfathered in existing customers to unlimited data, new customers were offered a maximum monthly data plan of 2 GB for $25, a $5 savings per month over the older unlimited data plan.

Justifying Metered Data Plans
At that time, users were bemoaning the restriction. The media was at a frenzy and phrases like ‘stifling innovation’ were thrown around as users may not feel free to access data anytime they want for fear of going over their monthly allotment, and users may neglect some apps if they are too data intensive. In its defense, AT&T says the majority of its customers consume less than that amount, and it is a fair approach to save the majority of its customers money while only penalizing the heaviest of data hogs.

Introducing Tethering
More recently, after rival Verizon Wireless announced the iPhone 4 for its CDMA network and announced that it would offer WiFi tethering, AT&T followed suit and announced a Data Pro tethering plan, which adds another 2 GB of data to the monthly allotment for an additional $20, bringing a user’s data cap to 4 GB per month shared between tethering and on the phone for a total of $45. As AT&T begins to eye shared data or family data, its metered plans may not suffice the needs of users who are now adding new classes of wirelessly connected devices to their arsenals, from laptops to netbooks and tablets to phones, these devices are increasingly relying on connectivity to perform tasks. Video chatting, movies and music downloads, streaming media, cloud-based collaboration services, document archival and synchronization, and a vast number of tasks and processes are getting shifted to the cloud rather than relying on local storage, making the need for data ever more prevalent.

Shared Family Data
A shared data plan is similar to a family plan for voice. Voice family plans come with a bucket of minutes, for example, that are shared between all the different wireless cellular phone lines under the account. Similarly, a shared or family data plan will come with a bucket of data allotment, perhaps in the GB range, that can be shared across various Internet-enabled products in the account. Those products may include USB modems, MiFi units, tablets, smartbooks, netbooks, notebooks, and smartphones.

Shared data plans were first discussed by Verizon last month at the Reuters technology summit. Verizon is also looking to migrate to a metered plan and away from its unlimited offerings for smartphones.

Fair Use Data
Users in the past have complained that data was not fair under current pricing plans. For instance, even though you pay for data on a smartphone, you can’t use it on a tablet, even if it’s within your monthly allotment. The issue has been less mentioned now that carriers like AT&T and Verizon have begun to offer tethering options, but the cost of tethering is that, at least on AT&T’s network, is that you no longer can have unlimited data. Even grandfathered users under older plans must shift to a metered offering to enjoy tethering, but at least you’re able to share your data with other devices. However, if for instance, you’re using your phone to tether a laptop, and a friend wants to borrow the laptop for a week, they can’t enjoy the laptop using your AT&T smartphone’s wireless connection via the tethering implementation that you had set up.

With shared plans, they potentially can. Now, without signing up for multiple data plans for multiple devices, users can begin to consolidate all their devices–wireless and voice–under one account and one bill. Your laptop can get its own data plan and you won’t need to tether.

However, as networks become faster and more capable, users will find themselves consuming more data, especially if they can now do a lot of things on a lot more devices. AT&T’s 2 GB or even 4 GB limit may not be enough and the carrier may need to begin to offer more affordable plans at higher monthly allotments to appease heavy data users.

Bring on Rollover Data!
Ralph de la Vega did not give any details on when we’ll begin to see shared data plans. Hopefully, with de la Vega will see it fit to also carryover the rollover feature found on the carrier’s voice plans to its shared data plans.

Via: Engadget

Tech enthusiast in Silicon Valley enjoying the possibilities of ubiquitous connectivity, information sharing, and collaboration enabled by mobile broadband. You can contact Chuong on Twitter @chuongvision or search +chuongvision on Google+.

20 Comments

  1. Beasthunt

    06/03/2011 at 2:13 pm

    It’s amazing that the further we push forward the further we go backwards. It’s getting outrageous. Soon people will just say screw it and go back to their clam shell phones and pay walmart 50 bucks a month for unlimited talk and text.

    There is absolutely no reason why we now pay for unlimited data plans on our smart phones then another fee to share a small percentage of that already purchased data, with other devices you already own. It is criminal activity and no way someone other than a bling monkey sheep could justify that. But there are plenty that will.

    • Daniel Sanchez

      07/02/2011 at 12:26 am

      You never ever payed for unlimited data plans, read the fine print. Fair use practices always have limited what you can do and/or slow you data speeds. Name a company that gives you unlimited data and I will find a link were it will shut you up!

      • ABby

        07/09/2011 at 6:56 pm

        Sprint dumbass

  2. Lois

    06/03/2011 at 2:38 pm

    AT&T has become so bloated over the past 5 years… it takes them MONTHS to decide on a simple “price” and a simple “amount” for shared data. 

    Why?

  3. Lois

    06/03/2011 at 2:38 pm

    AT&T has become so bloated over the past 5 years… it takes them MONTHS to decide on a simple “price” and a simple “amount” for shared data. 

    Why?

    • Daniel Sanchez

      07/02/2011 at 12:23 am

      Its takes a long time because at&t is really big company. When you are that big it takes a bit longer to make those types of decisions.

  4. Anonymous

    06/03/2011 at 7:53 pm

    Rogers in Canada already has data sharing http://www.rogers.com/web/content/dataSharing

  5. Anonymous

    06/03/2011 at 7:53 pm

    Rogers in Canada already has data sharing http://www.rogers.com/web/content/dataSharing

  6. Anonymous

    06/03/2011 at 8:26 pm

    Virgin Mobile offes 300 voice, unlimited text, and unlimited data for $25 a month.  AT$T and Verizon should just go jump in a lake with these plans that have people signed up for well over $2000 for two years of service.  Wake up consumers!

    • Daniel Sanchez

      07/02/2011 at 12:29 am

      Virgin going to raise that plan to $30-$35 range. 300 Voice is enough for the average consumers but there interent suck big time. at&t and Verizon gives unlimited talk, text, and web for $50 flat for the no contract phones are better choice.

  7. Anonymous

    06/03/2011 at 8:26 pm

    Virgin Mobile offes 300 voice, unlimited text, and unlimited data for $25 a month.  AT$T and Verizon should just go jump in a lake with these plans that have people signed up for well over $2000 for two years of service.  Wake up consumers!

  8. Grem0724

    06/29/2011 at 4:57 am

    AT&T needs to go back to unlimited data the two gig plan for $25 is no good at all and the extra 2 gigs for an additional $20 is just like going over twice in one month so how does that help

    • Deltateam226

      07/01/2011 at 4:41 pm

      I agree with that, but at the same time with all the people using smart phones now. In big city att network was crashing because of all the heavy data usures was crashing their network. It was not built to recieve that much data. The other carrier like big red would have the same proublem.. It was not design for that is why they offer free wifi. People use thier phones for everyrhing now so they had to put a cap. Now all the other carriars are jumping on bored even sprint is talking about tear plains.

    • Daniel Sanchez

      07/02/2011 at 12:38 am

      Today less than 95% use less than 2 GB every month. Tomorrow may not be the case, that is the reason that scares at&t, verizon, and even sprint in the near future. Wifi is what those companies want you to remember to use daily, at&t gives you the most wifi hotspot than any other carrier. Both at&t and verizon sell interent at home that all smartphones have wifi capabilities. I seriousily see wifi in every place I go. In my house wifi, at work wifi, at airport wifi, at starbucks wifi, at mcdonalds wifi, at the mall wifi, at the park wifi, on public transportation wifi, even on the beach I have wifi. You almost have to convince me on why do I need their internet.

      • Casey

        07/07/2011 at 1:27 am

        For those of us who don’t live in a wifi paradise it is a huge inconvenience.

  9. Dale Strauss

    06/29/2011 at 3:13 pm

    Well, we are spitting into a gail force wind if we think AT&T or Verizon will ever offer a “reasonably priced” data plan ever again. That’s like telling a vampire it’s time to switch to red wine! I’ve been so amazed about the internet frenzy over the “Cloud” (whether Apple, Amazon, Google or M$haft). Now, even my home DSL is metered by AT&T, so who is going to go iCloud 24/7, much less rely on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon for streaming content. Ralph and friends have killed the goose, cracked the eggs, and made us a one-time indigestible omlette.

    • Hh

      11/10/2011 at 12:49 am

      LaO

  10. Scottrw2008

    11/19/2011 at 8:07 am

    I currently have four 200MB plans with ATT, three iPhones and an iPad.  On average we only use about 75MB’s of data per account.  So in essence, I am paying $60 a month for 300MB.  We will be moving away from smart phones and back to the old basic flip phone as the contracts terminate.  We will learn to live with the Itouch and iPads using wifi only unless ATT comes up with a reasonable alternative.

  11. Butterscotch4Lfe88

    11/20/2011 at 6:55 pm

    I have only had at&t for 3days and I do not like it! I do not understand how a person can pay hundreds of dollars for a phone and have limited data that’s why everyone loves sprint! I am scared to even access my internet or even an application because everything cost. I THINK IT’S UNFAIR AND SELFISH! My name is Dominic Smart
    P.s. It’s not good to have customers complaining about things like this and only after 3days

  12. Richard

    07/02/2012 at 6:32 pm

    Att thinks it doesn’t need individuals to survive. Keep thinking that and att will be gone just like phone pagers…GOODBYE AT &T who

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